The city of Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, is attempting to solve the dilemma facing mothers with child care time constraints who still want to work. By promoting the introduction of jobs with working hours as short as two hours per day, two days per week, the city is working to address its labor shortage and remove barriers for women seeking to enter the workforce.
In the late afternoon at Terrace House nursery in Toyooka, nursery assistant Yoshimi Kawami, 34, checks on napping kindergartners while fetching a blanket. Kawami, who also assists with feeding and cleaning, works at the nursery from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. three days per week.
After earning her qualification in child care at a vocational college and moving to Toyooka to get married, Kawami became a stay-at-home mother. She enjoyed raising her daughter, but “only having contact with just my family, I began to want my own free time,” she said.
Even though she looked for a job, however, Kawami eventually gave up searching because nothing aligned with her daughter’s kindergarten schedule.
In a citywide survey carried out in Toyooka in 2017, 170 out of 198 unemployed women age 20 to 30 said that they wanted to work. Outside of time restrictions, some women also felt incapable of working because they had lost confidence after leaving a previous job.
After receiving the results of the survey, Toyooka held a consultation in cooperation with businesses, the local branch of the Hello Work employment service and the local Childcare General Support Center the following year. About 30 women attended the consultation session, along with 14 companies that agreed to introduce jobs with short hours.
Kawami’s role with the nursery was one such opportunity. “I really feel that I’m useful to the society. It’s also nice to get some information about the local area from my colleagues,” Kawami said.
Another factor in the city’s policy is the low “youth regeneration rate,” which is the ratio of people in their 20s moving into the city to those in their teens moving out of the city for their studies or other reasons. While the rate for men is 52.2 percent in Toyooka, for women it is just 26.7 percent.
Hirotaka Wakamori, 49, assistant head of the city’s division for work-style reform, hopes that by making it easier for women to work and creating worthwhile jobs in the city, the number of young people returning to Toyooka will increase.
The introduction of jobs with short working hours has also changed the attitudes of business owners. Shozaburo Yuri, 55, president of a bag manufacturer and sales company, previously prioritized people who could work full time, but in a job market in which job seekers have the advantage, he found it challenging to recruit recent graduates. Yuri has since changed direction to create a work environment favorable to those with a broad background.
Of around 230 people in Yuri’s company, three mothers work three-hour shifts each day. Yuri is also considering making these employees full-time staff eventually.
Iwate Prefecture, seeking to resolve a labor shortage following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, has also been promoting short-hour work contracts since 2016 and has sought to encourage companies to hire elderly workers.
Toba and Tamaki, both in Mie Prefecture, are introducing similar programs.
Renge Jibu, a journalist who has reported on women in the workforce, has suggested that local governments, by cooperating with other organizations, may be able to broaden employment options not just for women raising children, but also for those caring for their family members and those struggling with an illness.